When An Israeli Team Played At The Polo Grounds, Shibe Park and Ebbets Field
08/27/2010 - 13:33
Jonathan Mark

This coming Sunday's Jewish Heritage Day at Citi Field, presented by the Mets and the JCRC, is always a terrific day at the ballpark, and the Mets deserve our gratitude. Last winter, the Hebron Fund rented out a room at Citi Field for a fundraiser on behalf of one of Israel's oldest and holiest communities, a community that has lived in Hebron almost continuously since Biblical times, until wiped out in the Arab pogrom of 1929 and reconstituted shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967.

The extreme anti-Zionist  pro-Palestinian "moderates" who suppport the building of a 13-story mosque and Islamic "community center" at Ground Zero, all in the name of tolerance and religious freedom, decided to stop a Jewish group like the Hebron Fund from having a dinner in Queens. The "moderates" marshalled all of their power and pressure to get the Mets to boycott the Hebron Fund and refuse them the use of a dining room in Citi Field. The Mets wouldn't and didn't crack. The Mets owner, Fred Wilpon, a Jewish guy, stood tall against the anti-Zionist pressure. The Hebron Fund had its dinner.

Wilpon was friends with Sandy Koufax in high school, in Brooklyn, and they are friends still. Koufax got his rightful praise for sitting out a World Series game on Yom Kippur. Wilpon got far less glory for standing by Hebron but, to me, Wilpon is every bit the hero that Koufax was and remains. At a time when so many have abandoned Israel and given in to campaigns to boycott, delegitimize and ostracize the Jewish State, the Mets and the Wilpon family stood by Israel and the Jewish people. His people -- all of us -- should stand by him.

The Met's annual Jewish Heritage Day reminds me of the first time Hatikvah was heard before a sporting event in New York's ballparks.

OK, it was soccer, but still,

In the autumn of 1948, the new Jewish State sent its new national team to play a three-game series against the U.S. national team. All the Israeli athletes had served or were serving in the Israeli army. All the proceeds from the games went to United Jewish Appeal. 

The first game was played in the Polo Grounds before an estimated 25,000 fans (some of whom surely came by subway and the old Polo Grounds shuttle) and the Americans won 3-1. Check out the views from here, and from here or you might remember it like this.

A few days later, the two teams played in Philly's Shibe Park (later to be called Connie Mack Stadium) where the Israelis lost 4-0 before 20,000. A great place. A really great place.

Back up to Brooklyn (that photo must have been taken on Orthodox black hat give-away day), before another crowd of some 25,000 in Ebbets Field, the Americans defeated Israel 3-2. Well, at least it didn't rain. Here's the view outside the main gate from the corner of Sullivan.

Why haven't I told you this before?

You never asked.

Do the crowds seem somewhat small? They were much larger than what the average baseball game drew in those same stadiums. I thought the crowds would be bigger. I know we're talking about soccer, but we're also talking about a city full of European immigrants who grew up on the game, a city full of survivors and liberators and little yeshiva kids having a chance to hear Hatikvah in a major league park, to see a whole bunch of Jewish athletes -- the new Israelis with Magen Davids on their shirts -- running up and down the grass against the U.S.A. in three of the best ballparks ever created. What would most of us give today to see those ballparks, let alone those crowds in 1948?.

I'm curious to see how these games were covered in The Jewish Week and The New York Times. I'll look it up and let you know.

Dear reader, does anyone remember these games?

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